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LOVERRO: Ryan Ripken a rare recognizable name in MLB draft

- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 3, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

The Washington Nationals have drafted some pretty high-profile young prospects in recent years, thanks to having the No. 1 pick several years in a row when the No. 1 pick was a Sports Illustrated cover boy.

Everyone knew about Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper long before they were selected by the Nationals in 2009 and 2010 — two straight seasons in the spotlight, at least whatever spotlight the Major League Baseball draft can grab.

After all, as much as they might try, the baseball draft is not the NFL draft. The average fan isn't sitting at home doing a mock baseball draft, because they've never heard of most of the college and high school players selected.

The Nationals may go high-profile again in this week's draft, starting Thursday. Washington has the 18th pick in the first round, but that's not the one that is going to get people's attention.

Later in the draft, the Nationals may shake things up a little bit by selecting a very familiar baseball name — Ripken.

Yes, time has passed by that quickly, and Cal Ripken's son — Ryan, the 2-year-old Cal lifted in his arms and held that historic night when he broke Lou Gehrig's consecutive game record at Camden Yards 19 years ago — is now a 20-year-old, 6-foot-6 junior college ballplayer.

He has attracted the attention of a number of teams in this 2014 draft, and one of them is believed to be the Nationals — who seriously considered hiring his father as manager. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and Cal have developed a mutually respectful relationship with one another.

Wouldn't that be a kick in Baltimore's behind?

Of course, the Orioles are believed to be one of the teams interested in drafting Ryan as well, and did so once in the 20th round of the 2012 draft, when Ryan was an 18-year-old stud baseball and basketball player graduating from the Gilman School.

Ryan, though, opted to go play ball at the University of South Carolina, one of the top baseball schools in the country. He didn't make the Gamecocks' playing roster, though, and was redshirted as a freshman.

Last June, the news came out that Ryan was transferring to Indian River State College, a Florida junior college and also one of the top junior college programs in the country. Cal Ripken told The Sun in Baltimore that it was a "baseball decision more than anything else."

In 42 games at Indian River, Ryan has batted .321 in 42 games, with 18 runs scored, one home run and 24 RBI. He is not among the top junior college prospects, but Baseball America acknowledged in February in its 2014 College Preview that he was certainly "the biggest name in junior college baseball."

As we have seen play out many times, a name can be a blessing or a curse. Remarkably, Ryan was able to grow up in the backyard where his father became a baseball icon with little attention or fanfare, even though he was one of the best athletes in the area, a standout high school basketball player as well as baseball.

But that may change now, if Ryan is drafted as expected — and particularly if he is drafted by either the Nationals or the Orioles. The Ryan watch will begin if he becomes an Orioles or Nationals prospect — particularly these days, when you have so many minor league affiliates within a short drive.

Think about this one: Ryan Ripken playing first base for the Aberdeen Ironbirds — the New York-Penn League franchise and Orioles affiliate owned by his father. Even though the owner of an affiliated minor league franchise doesn't pick the players for the roster — the major league team does that — such a scenario would get its share of attention.

Baseball fathers and sons is nothing new. There have been numerous instances, the best known among them Ken Griffey Sr. and Jr., and Bobby Bonds and Barry. There have been three-generational baseball families, one of them being in the Nationals front office. Bob Boone, the team's vice president of player personnel, had two sons, Aaron and Bret, play in the major leagues, as well as his father, Ray.

But this is a special case, because of the stature of Cal Ripken in the game. Perhaps the only similar situation in recent memory was Pete Rose and his son, Pete Jr. That didn't end well.

Ryan, though, has a far better role model to learn how to deal with and accept the success or disappointment of his future in baseball.

Thom Loverro is co-host of "The Sports Fix,"noon to 2 p.m. daily on ESPN 980 radio andespn980.com

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